(This post inspired by this one by my sister Becky.)
I have written more than once about how, for me, a large part of the pleasure of the holidays is memory. There is the remembering of childhood Christmases and, now that my kids have grown older, the remembering of their childhood Christmases which are, for me, memories of a different kind of mothering than I do now. It is a bittersweet remembering, these Christmas memories; each one reminds me of how much time is already gone and how fast an entire life can pass.
Memory is, in fact, my primary motivator for Christmas experiences. One of my greatest hopes is that my kids will all look back on their Christmas memories—when they are old enough to be nostalgic for them—with happiness. That some flavor or smell or texture will be a trigger and take them back to good memories. Thus wrapping all the gifts in coordinating paper, thus the prettiest bows I could find, thus Santa with his unique handwriting; thus baking and candles and traditions.
I hope their memories sustain them as mine do.
Last week, my sister-in-law came across some old photos, including this one of my little family in 1998:
I love that picture. Jake's wave, which was entirely spontaneous, and the way Haley is holding her hands, and the almost-pleasant expression on Kendell's face. I love that I can remember being that mom, with little kids, and how fun it was to shop for toys for them. I know I was also tired—I had just finished my next-to-last semester at BYU and was facing down 18 more credits the next semester; Jake had two ear infections and pneumonia that December and Haley had the stomach flu. But I was also happy in a different way from how I am happy now. I thought that the upcoming years (and years and years!) of having little kids at Christmas would last forever.
It didn't, of course. Kids grow up and, one by one, mine have learned that Santa is helped out by their parents. (I haven't ever said "there isn't a Santa Claus" and I never will, because Santa is in our hearts as long as we keep him there.) Christmas started feeling stressful to me as my kids became teenagers, and while I hope I didn't ruin the magic...perhaps I did. I might have put too much pressure on everyone for the holidays to feel perfectly magical & memorable that I ruined the magic.
My relationship with Christmas is changing again. First Haley graduated from high school, so now she just comes home for Christmas, rather than always being here. This year, Jake will also need to "come home," even if he lives in the same town. For at least five years, Kaleb has been my only believer, but this year he, too, knows the truth about Santa. So I feel a little bit adrift: I have two adult kids and two still at home, and Kaleb still to make magic for even if he is 11 and knows everything.
As I looked at that picture from 1998, I had a realization: while we have traditions and while Christmas always feels like Christmas, no Christmas is ever the same. That long-ago Christmas when I bought Barbies for Haley and a Winnie-the-Pooh walker for Jake was never repeated; the next year Nathan had come along and we were on a different adventure. Every year is its own year, which means that never again will I have what I have this Christmas. Who knows? Maybe next year someone will decide to travel, or will be engaged or married. Or things could change in some way I can’t even imagine yet. I still have my mom down the street and my sisters and sisters-in-law down other streets (some longer than others) and nieces and nephews (and grands, too!) to visit with on Christmas day. Only this year will Kendell have survived this year, with his two new scars and an altered perception of mortality. (Please, God, may we get to next December with no more new scars!)
Sure: there are no believers anymore. There are no little ones bursting with irrepressible excitement. But this year will be good, too. This year will be so, so, sweet. Its pleasures and goodness will be unique to this year, it will add a new memory or two to all of the others, and I don’t want to be so caught up in remembering how it used to be that I miss what is right now.
So yes: memories. When I look at my tree, I remember the Christmases of my young motherhood; when I gaze at my white nativity I remember how it felt to be a child on Christmas eve again. When I look at my bowl of blue ornaments I remember Christmas Eves in my grandparents’ tiny, hot apartment and I miss them with an ache that has grown over the years rather than diminishing.
But joy in this year is the ultimate goal of right now. Savoring what is, which is good, too.
And also, there is this. Over the past few years, whenever I decorate the banister in my kitchen, something new happens in my heart. I don’t remember, perhaps because I usually hang the snowmen and the snowflakes on my own;
I look forward. I can nearly feel a little spirit waiting to become my grandchild. I hesitate to even write that, as if putting the words into form will jinx it. And I am in no rush for my kids to become parents. But I do anticipate it. There will be children again, that little voice whispers. One day I’ll be there too. This has happened for the past three or four years and while, sure, you could argue it’s all in my head, I’m just imagining it, I don’t care. It has added another layer to Christmas: looking forward.
I love the remembering. I love the right now. I love the anticipation of how things might change. And even though I’m right now at the height of Christmas stress, I am also feeling joy and peace.